How CNY county health officials plan to guide schools as in-person learning begins

Sep 10, 2020

With some schools in central New York reopening for in-person classes over the next few weeks, county health department officials are working with districts on what to do if staff or students contract the coronavirus. Many districts that are allowing children back into the building have elected for a hybrid system - half of the students come to school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays while the other half come in on Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be reserved so staff can complete a deep clean of the building.

Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said there are so many different potential scenarios that could play out this year that there's only one blanket rule: treat each case individually.

"This will be very much a case-by-case situation because of different school buildings, different configurations, different occupancy rates, different conditions," Huang said.

Both the Onondaga and Oswego county health departments plan to advise district officials each time a case of COVID-19 is detected, tracking down how many contacts those individuals had in the school building. Additionally, Huang said they will take into consideration any recommendations from the affected patient's doctor as well the official guidance given to schools by the New York State Department of Health.

Onondaga County Health Commissioner Indu Gupta said other factors will be at play too, such as whether the child or staff member was wearing a face mask throughout the day and whether they practiced social distancing. 

Ultimately, though, Gupta said districts will make the final calls on what to do. Her staff will make certain recommendations for some situations, like that an entire class should quarantine for 14 days after a student from that class leaves the school with symptoms or tests positive for the virus. 

"All of them will most likely be considered contacts because they were in the close classroom there, however, the rest of the school is a different scenario," Gupta said. 

An entire building may need to be closed if many people there tested positive at once or if certain staff members like shared teachers were exposed to multiple classrooms after contracting the virus. Gupta said that's why health officials are recommending schools limit student and staff movement throughout the building, keep face masks on, and disinfect regularly.